Breast Cancer Now has been delighted to partner with Boobs & Brass for more than 10 years. During this time, Boobs & Brass have raised over £250,000 in total, more than £216,000 of which was kindly donated to Breast Cancer Now (and its legacy charity Breast Cancer Campaign) to fund ground-breaking breast cancer research.
The research projects which have been fully funded using donations from Boobs & Brass are mostly ‘pilot grants’. These pots of money allow researchers to test new ideas and gather preliminary evidence to kick-start innovative projects.
Breast Cancer Now’s Director of Research, Dr Simon Vincent, explains: “Every new discovery a scientist makes raises new questions and opens up more avenues for future research – some of which may take them in a completely different direction to where they thought they were going. Our pilot grants were designed to help scientists make those first steps. The research ideas which get supported by pilot grants tend to be risky by their nature, and so inevitably some may not generate the results we might have hoped for – or may even not work at all. But while some projects won’t go as planned, others do succeed in laying the foundations for a new research programme. At Breast Cancer Now, we’ve always set our sights on funding innovative science, to push the boundaries and develop new ways to prevent and treat the disease – and pilot grants have enabled us to do just this. On behalf of our researchers, I would like to thank Boobs & Brass for your dedicated fundraising to make all of this work possible.”
Breast Cancer Now exists with three overarching goals – to prevent breast cancer, to stop people dying from the disease, and improve the lives of people with breast cancer through kinder treatments and improved support. Over our history, we have invested more than £200 million in breast cancer research – all funded through charitable donations – we’re immensely proud and grateful for everything that Boobs & Brass have done to help make this happen.
Provided below are summaries of each of the projects which have been supported by Boobs & Brass.
Prof Srinivasan Madhusudan
– understanding the biology of breast cancer
More people than ever are surviving breast cancer – thanks to research – but sadly one woman in the UK dies from the disease every 45 minutes. Although new innovative treatments are reaching patients all the time, there are still a lot of fundamental questions left to answer. A better understanding of the ‘basics’ – how it starts, how tumours grow, and how they survive existing treatments – will help to ensure no one dies from the disease.
With your help, Prof Srinivasan Madhusudan from the University of Nottingham has revealed the importance of a protein called SMUG1 in breast cancer. His work adds to our understanding of how breast cancer develops and could lead to new treatments for the disease.
With a pilot grant supported by Boobs & Brass, Prof Madhusudan has found that low SMUG1 levels are most commonly found in aggressive subtypes of the disease like triple negative breast cancer, and result in a lower chance of survival.
SMUG1 is a protein involved in the repair of DNA, the’ instruction manual’ found in almost all living cells. Cancer develops primarily because of problems with the DNA which cannot be repaired, so faults in DNA repair proteins like SMUG1 are common in cancer. Improving our understanding of how DNA repair proteins like SMUG1 are involved in breast cancer can lead to new treatments and ultimately improve the chances of survival for people with the disease.
Dr Padma Sheela Jayaraman
- studying how breast cancer cells
become able to spread:
If breast cancer spreads throughout the body, it can be treated and contained for a while, but sadly cannot be cured. Almost all deaths from breast cancer are caused by the spread of the disease throughout the body, known as secondary breast cancer. We need to understand how breast cancer cells learn to migrate and invade other tissues in order to stop this happening.
Dr Padma-Sheela Jayaraman from the University of Birmingham has been able to reveal clues of how breast cancer cells become able to migrate – the first step to spreading to other sites in the body. She has found that a molecule called PRH influences the growth and spread of breast cancer.
Starting with a pilot grant supported by Boobs & Brass, Dr Jayaraman found that low levels of PRH are associated with lower chances of survival. Her team also found that lowering the amount of PRH in normal breast cells in the lab makes them more able to migrate. Conversely, increasing the amount of PRH prevents the growth of breast cancer cells in the lab and in mice. This suggests that increasing PRH could be a therapeutic method to block the spread of breast cancer. By understanding more about how PRH works and how it blocks the growth and spread of breast cancer, Dr Jayaraman’s work could eventually lead to new drugs to make secondary breast cancer more treatable, and ultimately save lives.
Dr Sarah Vinnicombe
– using X-rays in new ways:
Sometimes it can be difficult to predict the future for people with breast cancer – whether their disease will become resistant to treatments, come back or spread to other parts of the body. We need to improve the way we assess tumours to predict what will happen in the future, so that patients can receive the most appropriate treatments for them. One of the tests carried out on a newly diagnosed tumour is a mammogram, an image generated using low dose X-rays. Mammograms can provide information about the size of a tumour and the extent of any spread into the surrounding breast tissue. Dr Sarah Vinnicombe at the University of Dundee has been testing an imaging technique which uses x-rays in a different way, known as ‘Diffraction Imaging’. This technique had never been applied to testing breast tumours before, but could provide even more information about a tumour and the tissue surrounding it. With a pilot grant supported by Boobs & Brass, Dr Vinnicombe was able to show that X.ray diffraction imaging worked on tumours which had been removed by surgery. This technique could tell the difference between different types of tissues found in and around tumours – for example fatty tissue, the tumour itself, and non-tumour tissue. There is a lot more work to do, but Dr Vinnicombe’s research could provide new techniques to assess tumours removed with surgery, which could have many applications. For example, it could aid diagnosis of breast cancer from biopsy samples, or help surgeons tell whether they have completely removed a tumour from a patient, which could reduce the need for repeat operations and reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. Ultimately, Dr Vinnicombe’s research could help ensure that everyone gets the most appropriate treatments, and so the best possible chance of survival.
Dr Julian Barwell
– predicting side-effects from radiotherapy:
Radiotherapy is a cornerstone treatment for breast cancer, and is designed to kill any remaining cancer cells in the breast and the surrounding area, reducing the chance of the disease returning. However, like other treatments, radiotherapy can have side effects. One potentially dangerous effect of radiotherapy is damage to the heart, which can cause life-long problems, and in some rare cases can even be fatal. With support from Boobs & Brass, Breast Cancer Now funded a pilot grant for Dr Julian Barwell from University of Leicester to investigate the side-effects of radiotherapy. He found that women who developed telangiectasia – broken blood vessels on the skin of the breast – after radiotherapy had an increased risk of developing heart problems in the future. These results have contributed to a growing body of research to identify who is at risk of the most severe side-effects of radiotherapy. Dr Barwell has since contributed towards a Europe-wide research project, called REQUITE-AB, which is aiming to predict which patients are more likely to have side effects from radiotherapy. This could help doctors tailor treatment for individual patients to give them the best chance of survival and also maintain a good quality of life. Beyond this project, Dr Barwell has helped establish genomic testing into the Leicester region via the 100,000 genome project. He continues to work in familial breast cancer, developing a ‘liquid biopsy’ to collect tumour DNA floating in the bloodstream, which will help to improve diagnosis and plan treatment.
Dr Eugene Tulchinsky
– studying how breast cancer spreads:
Secondary breast cancer, when cancer spreads from the breast to other parts of the body, is sadly the cause of almost all deaths from the disease. To try and prevent breast cancer from spreading, researchers are studying how cancer cells undergo a transition from being stationary to being able to invade into the surrounding area and migrate throughout the body. Dr Eugene Tulchinsky at the University of Leicester was awarded a pilot grant to investigate the role of two molecules, called ZEB1 and SIP1, in this process. He found that ZEB1 was completely absent from some tumours, but that SIP1 was very abundant in others. He also lay the foundations for developing a new way to study the role of these two molecules in the spread of breast cancer in mice. A better understanding of how breast cancer spreads will lead to ways to stop secondary breast cancer from developing and ultimately save lives.
Prof Nicola Brown
As tumours grow in the breast and other parts of the body, they encourage new blood vessels to grow towards them to supply them with oxygen and food. One avenue for breast cancer treatment could be to stop new blood vessels from developing, and essentially suffocate the tumour. However, drugs designed to do this, like Avastin, have not been as successful as hoped when tested in patients, so we need to find new ways to cut off a tumour’s blood supply.
Breast Cancer Now awarded a PhD studentship grant to Prof Nicola Brown at the University of Sheffield to investigate this. Nicola and her PhD student, Sapna Lunj, found that molecules called neuropilins are also involved in the development of blood vessels in breast cancer. However, blocking neuropilins as well as using Avastin didn’t slow down the growth of blood vessels any faster than Avastin on its own. Nevertheless, thanks to their work we now know more about how blood vessel development in breast cancer is controlled – which could eventually lead to new ways to treat the disease.
– cutting off the tumour’s blood supply:
Prof Uwe Vinkemeier
A family of molecules called STAT proteins have conflicting roles in breast cancer – STAT3 and STAT5 appear to help breast tumours to progress, but STAT1 blocks tumour formation. Whilst investigating how STATs work together, Prof Uwe Vinkemeier from the University of Nottingham discovered that STATs can form structures called ‘paracrystals’. He thought that these structures may affect how the individual STATs behave.
In a pilot grant supported by Boobs & Brass, Prof Vinkemeier hoped to investigate STAT paracrystals further, but sadly, unexpected technical challenges occurred that could not be overcome during the pilot grant’s short duration. However, the work he was able to do has now provided a roadmap for future research which could unravel this mysterious behaviour and potentially reveal new targets for drugs for breast cancer.
– studying mysterious paracrystals:
Dr Paul Edwards
Cancer originates from changes to the DNA called mutations. Scientists are always trying to understand the consequences of specific mutations, as well as identifying new ones. Dr Paul Edwards has been interested in a family of genes called PKD genes, which are known to be involved in a kidney disease that has many of the hallmarks of cancer, including uncontrolled cell growth.
In a pilot grant supported by Boobs & Brass, Dr Edwards showed that mutations involving PKD genes are found in about 4% of breast cancers. Although this may not sound like a lot, it represents more than 2,000 cases a year in the UK, and is almost as many as those which carry mutations in the BRCA1 gene. Understanding what these mutations do, and how they contribute to the development of breast cancer, is the next step of this work. One exciting prospect for PKDs is that they are suitable targets for drugs, which means that new drugs tailored for individual patients could be developed in the future.
– revealing the genetics of breast cancer:
Dr Gilbert Fruhwirth
As tumours grow rapidly in size, they struggle to maintain an adequate blood supply, which means that some of the cells in the tumour may lack oxygen. However, whilst many normal cell types would not be able to cope with this, cancer cells can sometimes become more aggressive, as they fight for survival under harsh conditions. This lack of oxygen is known as ‘hypoxia’, and how cancer cells respond to it is an important area of cancer research.
– tracking how cells respond to a lack of oxygen:
Dr Gilbert Fruhwirth
- from Kings College London
....was awarded a pilot grant to carry out research into how breast cancer cells which experience hypoxia become more able to spread across the body. He planned to develop a new technique, which would permanently label breast cancer cells when they lack oxygen. This would have meant that these cells could be identified later wherever they are in the body, even if they later have enough oxygen. However, technical challenges with this innovative project meant it was only partially completed. But the work which was completed produced important tools and data, which now form the basis of new projects. With his research, Dr Fruhwirth ultimately aims to reduce the spread of breast cancer throughout the body, saving lives in the future.
Dr David Morrison
– studying the ‘real-world’ results
Lots of different factors can influence the chances of survival for women with breast cancer, even for those with the same type of breast cancer, and receiving the same kinds of drugs. These factors can include things like their age, other health conditions they may have, and how wealthy the area they live in is. Ideally, doctors would take all these ‘real world’ factors into account when deciding on the most appropriate treatment for their patients. However, it is difficult to estimate how much each of these factors will influence an individual person’s chances of survival. Dr David Morrison from the University of Glasgow was awarded a pilot grant to develop methods to more accurately calculate the chances of survival for individual patients. By combining data on around 500 women with secondary breast cancer being treated at a hospital in Glasgow, he updated estimates for the chances of survival for women receiving chemotherapy drugs called taxanes to take other ‘real world’ factors into account. Dr Morrison’s research could eventually provide women with breast cancer and their doctors with more accurate information about the benefits of a particular treatment as well as the potential risks. This information will help women with breast cancer in the future to decide what is the most appropriate treatment for them, so giving them the best chance of survival and quality of life.